Rosalía Vila Tobella was raised in a small town in northern Barcelona, Spain. She was singing with her father at the age of 7, although she mostly listened to music in English and didn’t discover flamenco until she was 13. Rosalía began studying music at 16, completing her studies at Barcelona’s Catalonia College of Music. She also worked as a flamenco teacher and vocal coach.
She sang with the flamenco ensemble Kejaleo, releasing an album in 2013, while in 2016 she collaborated with Spanish rapper C. Tangana on the single ‘Antes de morirme’. In collaboration with producer and musician Raül Refree, Rosalía created her first solo album, Los Ángeles, in 2017. Her second record, El Mal Querer, blended traditional flamenco with modern pop flavours and was widely successful, reaching #2 in Spain and charting in the US.
A series of festival dates and collaborations with artists like The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and Billie Eilish have left Rosalía poised to become a world-scale pop star, her flamenco roots giving her a point of difference in a crowded pop market. She’s also skilled at visual imagery – her bright, bold sense of colour is a major asset.
Rosalía Album Reviews
Rosalía’s debut album was recorded with producer Raül Refree; they’re a duo, with Refree accompanying Rosalía. Los Ángeles is Spanish for the angels, and it’s a concept album about death. According to critics who know more about flamenco than I do, it bridges the gap between tradition and contemporary, although critics were divided over its authenticity and artistic merits. Refree and Rosalía were also working on a second record together, reportedly with neo-soul and electronic textures, but it remains unreleased.
Occasionally on this site, I’ll review an album that I’m even less qualified than usual to discuss. A traditional flamenco album almost entirely in Spanish is one of those occasions – the only exception is a closing cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s ‘I See A Darkness’. Unable to understand the lyrics, the main attraction is Rosalía’s charismatic vocal performance. It’s often intense, with Refree’s spartan guitar providing propulsion underneath Rosalía’s athletic vocals.
The stark Los Ángeles is a tougher listen than El Mal Querer, but it’s worth exploring to see if you enjoy Rosalía dark and acoustic.
El Mal Querer
English for “The Bad Loving”, El Mal Querer is a concept album about a toxic relationship. It’s based on the 13th century novel Romance of Flamenca, with every song named after a chapter of the book. Rosalía’s main collaborator is producer El Guincho, who provides her with a more modern sound. Impressively, she’s able to blend her flamenco background with R&B and pop, making a record that’s unmistakably steeped in Spanish tradition but also diverse and accessible.
The record’s spearheaded by the lead track and first single ‘Malamente’, which encapsulates Rosalía’s blend of fresh and old – the hand-clap rhythms of flamenco are blended with smooth synths, topped by Rosalía’s sultry vocal. ‘Pienso en tu mirá’ is also instantly memorable, with another memorable vocal performance. There are also songs that are clearly more traditional – ‘Que no salga la luna’ is based around acoustic flamenco guitar, while ‘De Aquí No Sale’ is largely a cappella.
El Mal Querer is a triumph, establishing Rosalía as a star.
El Mal Querer was critically acclaimed, but Motomami largely abandons flamenco, instead positing Rosalía as a mainstream Latin star. This change was already signalled by a parade of non-album singles over the past few years, like ‘Aute Cuture’ and the duet with Billie Eilish on ‘Lo Vas a Olvidar’. Motomami recalls the Latin music that Rosalía danced to with her cousins as a child.
I was initially wary of the change – it felt like a promising young artist sacrificing her unique angle and authenticity for mainstream appeal. But taken separately, Motomami works on its own terms. It’s surprisingly eclectic; it was once planned as four projects, with separate records of flamenco, piano ballads, dark pop, and alternative reggaeton. With eighteen eclectic tracks, Motomami sometimes feels like a sprawling double, but with its short run times, it’s actually fast-moving. There are still traces of flamenco, notably on ‘Bulerías’, but also shots at the mainstream like the Weeknd duet ‘La Fama’ and the sassiness of ‘Chicken Terayaki’. Rosalía is an exceptional vocalist, and her vocals shine on tracks like the a capella closer ‘Sakura’ and the sensual ‘Hentai’.
Motomami is a less unique artistic statement than El Mal Querer, but it’s a successful album on its own terms.
RR (EP, with Rauw Alejandro)
Spanish vocalist Rosalía has had a fascinating career to date, from the acoustic flamenco of Los Ángeles, through her 2018 masterpiece El Mal Querer, and veering into her own takes on modern pop on 2022’s Motomani. RR is a brief three-song EP, where she teams up with her boyfriend Rauw Alejandro. It celebrates their third anniversary and their engagement.
Aside from the significance to the couple, RR serves as a cute little sidenote in Rosalía’s discography – these aren’t her most significant songs, but they’re pleasant, mixing reggaeton beats with flamenco guitars. There’s diversity – while ‘Beso’ stays pretty, ‘Vampiros’ goes to unexpected places with its abrasive second half. Alejandro isn’t as commanding a vocalist as Rosalía, but they sound nice together.
Such is the ephemeral nature of EPs, RR might be mostly forgotten in a few months, but it’s a pleasant way to spend ten minutes.
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